Anti-gun campaigners are urging the United Nations to negotiate a new treaty to regulate the $1-billion a year illicit trade in small arms. World body is holding a conference on arms trafficking.
Guns kill 200,000 people a year. Nearly half the victims are young men. A quarter of the $4-billion a year small arms trade is considered illicit, that is, not legally recorded.
Bolstered by a raft of alarming statistics, 2,000 anti-gun activists are at U.N. headquarters to push for a strict set of international rules to curb the spread of illicit small arms.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened the conference Monday by noting that illicit small arms are responsible for the majority of deaths from conflicts and crime worldwide.
"Small arms are easy to buy, easy to use, easy to transport and easy to conceal," said Kofi Annan. "Their continued proliferation exacerbates conflict, sparks refugee flows, undermines the rule of law and spawns a culture of violence and impunity."
Mr. Annan said these weapons may be small, but they cause mass destruction.
But the two-week U.N. conference has met with a strong opposition from gun-rights activists in the United States. The National Rifle Association, which represents four million U.S. gun owners, charged that the goal of the conference was to pressure all nations to ban the individual use of firearms.
In his address, Secretary-General Annan emphasized that the work of the conference is aimed only at the quarter of the gun trade that is illicit.
"Mr. President, with your permission I would want to repeat, because there are people around who either have not heard this, or do not want to hear," he said. "We are not negotiating a global ban, nor do we wish to deny law-abiding citizens their right to bear arms in accordance with their national laws."
Sri Lanka's Ambassador Prasad Karyawasam is presiding over the conference. He says most of the 49 major wars during the 1990s were made worse by the easy availability of illegally traded and trafficked small arms.
The advocacy group "Control Arms" issued a report ahead of the conference showing that the Kalashnikov assault rifle is the world's most widely-used weapon. The report quotes the weapon's inventor, Mikhail Kalashnikov, as saying terrorists and criminals easily obtain small arms because of a lack of international controls. He favors tougher regulations to control the spread of such weapons.
Experts estimate as many as 80 million Kalashnikovs have been produced since 1947. It is considered the weapon of choice for guerrillas around the globe.